A series of bizarre murders in post–World War II England appears to be connected to the Magic Men, magicians who were part of a special ops group during the war, in this whodunit set in the world of tricks and illusion.
It’s 1950, and Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is settling into his new life with the Brighton police. An Oxford student before the war, Edgar was recruited by MI5 to join the Magic Men because of his aptitude for crosswords and codes. Including magicians Max Mephisto, Stan “The Great Diablo” Parks, Tony Mulholland, and a handful of others who made up the ragtag squad, the men—and one alluring woman—worked to play elaborate tricks on the Germans. Edgar thought his magic days were behind him until two trunks containing a woman’s dismembered body turn up in the Brighton train station’s left luggage area, the torso conspicuously missing. The next day, another case arrives at the police station, addressed to Edgar, with the missing torso. Edgar is convinced the killer is mimicking an old trick of Max’s where the magician pretends to chop his assistant into bits, the titular Zig Zag Girl. Edgar tracks down his old friend, who’s still performing, despite the public’s waning fascination with variety shows—television is on the horizon, after all. The pair identifies the dead woman as Max’s old assistant and, in a somewhat predictable but still engaging game of cat and mouse with the killer, tries to find the rest of the Magic Men before it’s too late.
Griffiths (The Ghost Fields, 2015, etc.) weaves a compelling tale rich with historical detail and a cast of eccentric characters.